Deliciously flavoured and easy to prepare, basil pesto is the perfect sauce for everything from sandwiches and pizzas to grilled meats, salads, dips, and even baked potatoes. Learn how to make the best homemade pesto with this comprehensive guide.
*This post has been updated from an earlier version to include new photos and a few tweaks to the original recipe to make it even more scrumptious!*
I've always been a fan of fresh basil pesto made from scratch rather than from a jar. It's actually quite simple to make and tastes so much better!
Basil pesto can be used in so many ways and in so many dishes, and it adds an amazing punch of flavor by using just a small amount.
I love to use fresh pesto on pasta and as a seasoning for chicken. I find that it's especially fantastic mixed with a bit of tomato and used as a pizza sauce.
I hope you enjoy this recipe! ❤️ If you give it a try, please let me know how it turned out for you in the comments section at the bottom of the page or share a pic of your om noms on Instagram and tag @dishesanddustbunnies! ❤️
What Is Basil Pesto Made Of?
Basil pesto, originally from Italy, is a vibrant green sauce consisting of fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, grated Parmesan cheese, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and extra-virgin olive oil. Most basil pesto recipes include these ingredients, but there are also many variations of this classic recipe, so feel free to get creative!
How to make Homemade Classic Basil Pesto – Overview
The BEST Pesto Recipe:
You can find the full recipe details, including ingredient amounts and the full instructions, in the recipe card at the bottom of this post, but first, here's a quick overview of how to make a homemade basil pesto recipe from scratch!
The process for making homemade basil pesto is quite simple – it's basically just a matter of putting everything in the food processor or blender while pulsing on LOW until everything is combined.
A couple of important things to remember when making basil pesto:
- It's important that you use fresh high quality ingredients for this recipe. Good quality olive oil and good quality Parmesan cheese will make a world of difference when making pesto.
- When processing, add the olive oil LAST and do it SLOW. The key is to slowly drizzle the olive oil as you pulse. There is a chance that if you process the pesto too vigorously, the oil will emulsify and create a slightly bitter taste. Not to worry, though – this can be fixed if it happens! You just have to add a little more salt and fresh lemon juice to counteract this! Adding a little lemon juice can help neutralize bitterness, enhancing the overall flavor. It's only happened to me a few times, so no worries.
What is the ideal texture of Basil Pesto?
The texture of your basil pesto is up to you!
Personally, I prefer pesto with a bit of a texture where you can feel the crunch of some of the pine nuts and the parmesan cheese. Others prefer their basil pesto to be processed smoothly, with little to no noticeable texture.
Smooth or textured – how you make your basil pesto is completely up to personal preference – either way, it'll taste amazing!
Does Basil Pesto Need to Be Cooked?
Basil pesto doesn't need to be cooked. It's intended to be served at room temperature or cold. However, you can briefly heat the sauce to enhance flavor and create a smoother consistency.
Feel free to experiment with different ingredients in your basil pesto. Replace traditional pine nuts with almonds, walnuts, or even sunflower seeds for a new twist. You can also swap out the Parmesan cheese, try other hard cheeses like Pecorino Romano or Asiago, or even opt for a dairy-free version.
Basil pesto with a twist: Try adding arugula, mint, or spinach for a unique pesto flavor profile. You can also incorporate additional ingredients such as roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, or artichokes to elevate your dish even further.
Other variation ideas:
- try using roasted garlic rather than fresh if you're looking for more of a mellow flavor. Roasting the garlic brings out its natural sweetness and creates a more subtle flavor profile than when used raw.
- in addition to the lemon juice used in this recipe, you could also add some lemon zest for a bit of extra zing.
How to Store Basil Pesto
Storing your finished pesto correctly is essential for preserving its flavor and freshness. It's best to store the pesto in an airtight container, preferably in the fridge. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pesto to prevent oxidation (turning brown) and maintain its vibrant green color.
How Long Is Basil Pesto Good For?
When stored refrigerated and correctly, your homemade basil pesto should last for up to one week.
Can I Freeze Basil Pesto?
Yes, you can freeze basil pesto! If you want to make a larger quantity or have some leftovers, freezing is a great option for long-term storage. Use ice cube trays to freeze individual portions, then transfer the frozen cubes into an airtight container or plastic freezer bag.
Freezing small portions of pesto using an ice cube tray helps me breeze through dinner prep! Basil pesto can last up to three months when frozen.
What Kind of Pasta Shape Is Best with Basil Pesto?
Short, textured pasta shapes such as farfalle, fusilli, rotini, or penne are excellent choices for holding onto the rich basil pesto sauce.
One of my favorite pasta to use with basil pesto is tortellini! It's absolutely delicious! Feel free to experiment with your favorite pasta types!
What Can Basil Pesto Be Used For?
Basil pesto isn't just for pasta dishes! Try using it as a spread for sandwiches, a creative pizza sauce, a topping for grilled meats or fish, or even as a dressing for salads. Here are a whole bunch of great ideas on how to use your basil pesto:
- As a spread for sandwiches and wraps
- Pizza sauce
- Topping for grilled chicken. beef, or fish
- In dips and sauces
- On roasted, grilled or steamed vegetables
- As a topping on crackers or crostini
- Mixed into soup, stews, and chili dishes
- On toast with tomatoes or avocado
- To make a delicious vegetable dip
- As part of a marinade or rub for meats, chicken, pork, beef, fish or tofu
- To top baked or mashed potatoes as an alternative to butter
- As a topping for bruschetta
- In risotto or other grain dishes
- To make an herbed breadcrumb coating for fish and vegetables
- As part of a vinaigrette dressing
- On top of grilled cheese sandwiches or paninis
- Add to homemade hummus
- As an ingredient in savory muffins and breads.
- In soup or stew to enhance the flavor
- As part of a marinade for meats, poultry, fish, or vegetables
- In pasta salads with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and feta cheese
- To make herbed oil for dipping breads such as focaccia
- To top grilled portobello mushrooms
- In omelets, scrambles, and frittatas
- Mixed into cream cheese to spread on bagels and toast.
- 3 cups fresh basil leaves, removed from stems
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 2–3 cloves of garlic
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese (try to use high quality fresh cheese rather than the stuff in the shaker)
- ¼ tsp salt + some on hand to adjust taste
- pinch of ground black pepper
- ¼ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Splash of lemon juice (I use about ½ a lemon)
- Into a food processor place all ingredients except for the oil.
- Pulse ingredients on low until everything is starting to get the proper consistency.
- Now, slowly pour in the olive oil. It's important that this is down slowly since olive oil can become bitter and emulsify if processed too quickly.
- Once processed remove from the processor and put into a storage container such as a jar.
- Add a splash of lemon juice and stir.
- Do a taste test and add a little more salt and pepper if needed.
- This should keep in the fridge for about a week but you can also put it in the freezer and it should be good for a couple months.
Make sure that you taste test your pesto. Sometimes depending on the leaves used there can be a slight bitter taste. Also if olive oil is processed too vigorously it can also lend to a slight bitterness. You can fix this by adding a bit more salt and lemon juice.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Method: Food Processor
- Cuisine: Italian